Start your exploration of Boston's Downtown Crossing neighborhood by zig-zagging your way down the very walkable Winter Street. (©Paul Gelsobello)
WhereTraveler invites you to explore Downtown Crossing with this in-the-know guide, all about Boston's hippest old-is-new district for travel experiences that we love. After all is said and done, whether you're shopping, dining or visiting—this is the place to be.
Downtown Crossing District: A Semi-Brief History
Downtown Crossing was Ben Franklin's stomping ground and a gathering place for the Sons of Liberty.
Little more than a century after that, it had become Boston's chicest place to shop (Newbury Street, what?), and was laden with posh (now vintage) department stores like Kennedy's, Gilchrist, Filene's and Jordan Marsh, as well as hundreds of diamond and precious metal jewelers.
Unfortunately, by the 1950s, many of the retail stores began closing as demand decreased. The neighborhood's theaters—The Modern, the Opera House, the Orpheum and the Paramount—had all opened between 1900 and the 1920s as vaudeville palaces but later turned into X-rated movie houses or simply sat vacant.
Today, thanks to Emerson and Suffolk universities, not to mention dozens of redevelopment projects, the neighborhood has been transformed. The area has traded its rough-and-tumble past for a swankier look with a cheeky new nickname: "DTX."
Where to Eat in DTX
At Mast', chef Celio Pereira and his culinary crew invite you in to prove the truth of his restaurant's name, based on the Neapolitan term o'mast, meaning the master of one's craft. You'll fresh Italian dishes inspired by the piping hot cuisine in Palermo and Naples, like wood-fired pizzas that have kissed flames in a giant stove which complements this place's modern-industrial decor.
45 Province St., Boston, 617.936.3800
Matt Jennings' lively Townsman is the latest hot entry to this 'hood for its nose-to-tail fare. Think charcuterie, crudo and suckling pig; oh my!
120 Kingston St., Boston, 617.993.0750
If Starbucks isn’t your cup of tea, stop in to the award-winning, European coffee house Caffè Nero, which makes for a comfy—although crowded—place to stop for a cappuccino and a savory croissant. Just make room for the Emerson students congregating at the communal table.
560 Washington St., Boston, 617.936.3432
Legal Crossing “LX”, a notable one-off of the Legal Sea Foods family of restaurants, boasts a menu of favorites from across the Legal pantheon. Fish fans can dig into the lobster burger that’s so hush-hush that it's not mentioned on the menu.
558 Washington St., Boston, 617.692.8888
Kyoto-based coffee roaster Ogawa Coffee opened its first cafe outside Japan and turns the art of brewing coffee into, literally, art. If it's your first time at Ogawa, try the Kyoto House Blend and sit at the coffee bar, a cafe table or in stadium-style seating and look at what these baristas can do with a latte foam!
10 Milk St., Boston, 617.780.7139
We can't wait for: Yvonne's. Scheduled to open in coming months at Winter Place in the former digs of legendary Locke-Ober, this modern-styled supper club will serve up sharing plates from chefs Tom Berry and Juan Pedrosa.
3 Winter Place, Boston
Hot Shopping in the Crossing District
Once a shopping mecca that later fell out of popularity, Downtown Crossing's retail scene is again on the rise. What’s your pleasure? Fresh trends, old paperbacks, glitzy jewels? You'll find it all in DTX. Here are a few favorites.
One of America's oldest and largest used book stores, Brattle Book Shop features a treasure trove of used books across two floors and a third full of rare and antiquarian books. The outdoor-sale lot is worth perusing for great bargains.
9 West St., Boston, 617.542.0210
Bromfield Pen Shop is another gem that's lived in DTX for generations. Owner Fred Rosenthal sells modern fountain-style pens, rare collectibles and other premium writing utensils from famed makers like Montblanc and Visconti.
5 Bromfield St., Boston, 617.482.9053
Where Filene's department store and Filene's Basement once stood, gourmet grocery chain Roche Bros. recently opened its first urban location with much fanfare and anticipation. Stop in for sushi to go (this place has a whole level devoted to ready-made food), or bite into a warm chocolate chip cookie while browsing for groceries if your time in town is long-term.
8 Summer St., Boston, 617.456.5111
The historic, 93-year-old Jewelers Building Boston is a true hidden gem—no pun intended. Art-deco architecture fans through the seven floors housing more than 155 independent, family-owned and specialized retailers offering services from pearl stringing to engraving by hand, not to mention rock-bottom prices on gems, jewelry, gold and silver.
333 Washington St., Boston
In a neighborhood stacked with jewelers, E.B. Horn is one to visit. The business has been family owned since 1839 and sells some of the prettiest bling we've ever seen. Diamonds and timepieces are a specialty of the house, so if there's a 'Big Question' on your horizon you may want to check this out.
429 Washington St., Boston, 617.542.3902
High-end French furniture and design house Roche Bobois is a natural fit for the first level of the Ritz-Carlton building in which it's situated. Devotees of classic-contemporary home decor can browse this showroom all day long.
2 Avery St., Boston, 617.742.9611
We can't wait for: Primark. The Irish clothier opens its first U.S. location in the renovated Burnham Building on Sept. 10, 2015. The 70,000-square-foot space features trendy looks from one of Europe’s largest clothing retailers—from cropped tops to maxi skirts, men’s slip-on sneakers to sweaters, housewares to kids gear.
10 Summer St., Boston
Things to Do in Downtown Crossing
Looking for something to do in DTX? Here's some tips for you if you like American history and the arts.
For on-site information, head for the intersection of Washington and Winter streets and look for the Downtown Crossing push-cart where neighborhood ambassadors, on duty daily 7:30 am-8 pm. They'll answer questions and direct you to some great nearby attractions.
Several historic theaters within one block of each other hold a monopoly on the local performing arts scene in this area. The elaborate Boston Opera House is the home theater of the highly acclaimed Boston Ballet, in season October through May.Additionally, the Opera House serves as the main stage for Broadway productions on tour—"Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella" kicks off the 2015-2016 season.
Next door, ArtsEmerson runs the programming for the delightfully art-deco Paramount Center, restored back in 2010; catch anything from a contemporary electro-musical to international films. Suffolk University's Modern Theatre, originally of French renaissance design and historically the first movie palace to show a "talkie" in Boston, now stages university productions and occasionally professional companies, like Actors Shakespeare Project.
The 1852 music hall and original home of New England Conservatory, Orpheum Theater still books concerts—today smaller national acts like Mark Knopfler and My Morning Jacket.
1 Hamilton Place, Boston, 617.482.0106
Downtown Crossing also hosts many of the stops along The Freedom Trail, including Park Street Church, Granary Burying Ground, King's Chapel, Old South Meeting House and the Old State House. Each played a pivotal role in during the Revolutionary era, whether it was as a Loyalist church, incendiary center of debate or patriot resting place. The trail foundation offers guided tours, or you can walk it at your own pace.
The Ritz-Carlton Boston Common, 10 Avery St., Boston, 617.574.7100
Hyatt Regency Boston, 1 Avenue de Lafayette, Boston, 617.912.1234
Ames Boston Hotel, 1 Court St., Boston, 617.979.8100
Omni Parker House, 60 School St., Boston, 617.227.8600
We can't wait for: The Godfrey Hotel Boston. This independent boutique hotel in the heart of DTX will boast 242 swanky guest rooms dressed in Frette linens when it opens sometime this fall, likely by November.
505 Washington St., Boston